Several jockeys were spoken to by senior members of the spread betting firms and the result was that stakes for those believed to be involved were limited. Even so, winning distances remain one of the most popular racing markets with clients and most difficult to mark up for the traders. In broad terms soft or tacky ground means horses tire more easily and winning distances can be larger.
Small fields can also mean bigger winning distances than large handicap fields because there is more chance that the winner will be significantly better than its rivals. There are of course statistics showing typical winning length make-ups on various ground and on various courses. However, if ground conditions are the key to winning distances, then both punters and market-makers face a struggle. Condition descriptions at British racecourses are notoriously vague. What is one man’s soft ground is another man’s bog. Good-to-soft ground may be cloyingly sticky, leaving most horses struggling to move through it.
Good ground may be much faster than it should be, with the whole field coming home together. ‘It is very much a feel price for traders and it is the only market where I might look at statistics,’ says Scott Salkeld, racing trader at Spreadex. The problem came to a head when several firms received a run of bets selling winning distances at a series of low-quality, low-profile evening meetings. The allegation was that winning horses were being deliberately pulled up towards the line after connections had sold lengths.